Beach by Fort Pickens
1400 Fort Pickens Rd., Pensacola
Like some of Florida’s other parks, Fort Pickens began as a military fort on Santa Rosa island in the 1800s and remained in use until 1947. These days, the old fort still stands, but it’s the surrounding beach that’s the real draw. This tiny corner of the Gulf Coast is comparatively underdeveloped (no towering buildings or hotels) and the seven-mile stretch of white sand is as pristine as you’ll find. Bicycle lanes run parallel to the beach and separate picnic areas mean settling in for the day is no problem.
Ariola Dr., Pensacola
There are plenty of hotels in Pensacola, but we would argue a beachside rental is the way to go. The options here are easy, family-friendly, and luxurious. Ariola Drive faces the emerald surf of the Gulf and is home to several picture-perfect beach homes with private pools and rooftop decks for blasts of that warm, salty air. We loved this one with its classic white clapboard exterior and huge dining area for family feasts. A few doors down, this three-story, modernist property has floor-to-ceiling windows and a porch that runs the length of the house—convenient for keeping one eye on the kids on the sand below without having to leave the house.
Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum
2081 Radford Blvd., Pensacola
Climbing 177 steps is one way to tire little legs out. But the views of the Gulf Coast at the top are worth the exertion. Pensacola Lighthouse was built in 1858 and, with its accompanying keeper’s quarters, is a treasure trove of Civil War, maritime, and Coast Guard history. Bring identification, like a driver’s license or a passport, and sneakers for climbing the tower. Flip-flops aren’t allowed.
Joe Patti’s Seafood
524 S. B St., Pensacola
Joe Patti has been a Pensacola institution since 1931. Back then, Captain Joe and all six of his sons were Floridian fishermen who stocked the emporium with their own catch. These days, the dockside market is still a family-run business, and the love and care lavished on the place are evident. The warehouse-style space is packed full of locals browsing displays of the entire cast of Finding Dory. If it swims somewhere in the region of Florida, Joe Patti has it. There’s a sushi counter for a lunch of fresh-off-the-boat sashimi, plus salty, vinegary fried fish and chips. Conveniently, a beignet truck is parked outside the entrance, and a serving of that irresistible fried dough dusted liberally in powdered sugar is a mandatory part of the Joe Patti experience.